ORONO, Maine — Though it had a sluggish start on the offensive end, the University of Maine men’s basketball team has demonstrated more of its scoring potential of late.
Coach Ted Woodard’s Black Bears (2-5) have won two of their last three games and are coming off back-to-back financial guarantee games.
UMaine edged Northeastern of the Colonial Athletic Association 76-73 win on Nov. 28, then dropped an 87-73 decision to Atlantic 10 member Duquesne on Saturday afternoon.
The Bears have averaged 72.7 points per game in their last three outings after mustering only 58.7 points in the first three games.
“I definitely think things are coming together,” said sophomore guard Justin Edwards, who has been the top scorer in the previous three contests (22.7 ppg), including a career-best 30 points at Northeastern.
The Bears hope to keep the good vibes going in Thursday’s 7 p.m. game against NAIA member Fisher College of Boston at UMaine’s Memorial Gym.
Edwards attributes some of the offensive surge to being able to play at a faster pace.
“If we get running a lot, we get the defense moving so we can kick it around, get open shots, get fouls on the other teams’ ‘bigs,’ and get easier buckets for Ali [Fraser],” Edwards said.
Fraser, a junior forward, continues to serve as the hub of the offense in the paint. He has averaged 17 points and seven rebounds per game during the recent upswing.
Fraser and Edwards pointed to UMaine’s defensive efforts as impacting their offensive success during the 2-1 stretch that began with a 72-66 win over Siena on Nov. 25.
“I think it’s a case of our defense is leading to offense in a lot of cases,” Fraser said. “We’re getting in the passing lanes and Justin and X [Xavier Pollard] do a great job of getting steals and getting out on the break. That opens everything up for me to go inside and they do a great job of getting me the ball.”
Pollard, a sophomore point guard, has been ramping up his productivity as he settles into a starting role. He has averaged 13.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in the same stretch, while helping the offense click.
“Xavier Pollard had 24 assists in the last three games, so I think that has helped,” said Woodward, who pointed out UMaine is receiving contributions from the likes of Jon Mesghna, Mike Allison and Zarko Valjarevic.
“I think guys have really taken responsibility to make good plays and I think they’re playing very well together,” he added. “We’ve gotten good, solid balance.”
UMaine is holding its own on the boards, but continues to strive toward playing better defense.
The Bears have allowed 70.9 ppg overall and 75.3 in the games that included two step-up opponents. That has been due in part to more transition play.
“If you’re playing a fast-paced game, there’s going to be a lot more possessions [and shots],” Woodward said.
One key concern has been getting back and picking up opponents in the open court and cutting down on easy baskets or plays that lead to fouls. The task becomes more difficult as games wear on and starters begin to tire.
“We’ve still got a ways to go in those areas,” Woodward said. “We’ve got to do a better job in transition and we have to be in a situation to force some more turnovers.”
The Bears are happy to have the chance to play at home again after logging five of the first seven on the road.
“Hopefully, a lot of fans will come out and watch us,” Fraser said. “It’ll be nice to play here.”